A growing group of Americans spoke out against inequality and injustice during the 1950s. African Americans had been fighting against racial discrimination for centuries; during the 1950s, however, the struggle against racism and segregation entered the mainstream of American life. For example, in 1954, in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case, the Supreme Court declared that “separate educational facilities” for black children were “inherently unequal.” This ruling was the first nail in Jim Crow’s coffin.
Many Southern whites resisted the Brown ruling. They withdrew their children from public schools and enrolled them in all-white “segregation academies,” and they used violence and intimidation to prevent blacks from asserting their rights. In 1956, more than 100 Southern congressmen even signed a “Southern Manifesto” declaring that they would do all they could to defend segregation.
Despite these efforts, a new movement was born. In December 1955, a Montgomery activist named Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give her seat on a city bus to a white person. Her arrest sparked a 13-month boycott of the city’s buses by its black citizens, which only ended when the bus companies stopped discriminating against African American passengers. Acts of “nonviolent resistance” like the boycott helped shape the civil rights movement of the next decade.